New Mexico Black leaders challenge tricultural myth

In popular mythology, New Mexico is a “tricultural” state–– one where Hispanic, Anglo, and Native American communities live in relative harmony, an exemplar for the rest of the nation. But the persistent myth leaves out other groups with long histories in the state, appearing in state-produced documents as recently as 2019. Then, there were contentious remarks at a very public forum this February that led Black leaders to call for a formal statement from the Legislature denouncing the remarks. At a legislative hearing to confirm Veteran’s Service Secretary-designate Sonya Smith, a Black woman, Sen. Greg Baca, R-Belen, noted that 2.6% of New Mexico’s population is African American. He then asked Smith if she felt “comfortable adequately representing… cultures of white, Native, Hispanics.” 

Black community leaders issued a statement characterizing Baca’s words as racist and calling on legislative leaders to issue a formal denouncement.

A century of federal indifference left generations of Navajo homes without running water

When Julie Badonie was growing up in the small Navajo community of Tohatchi in the 1940s, her father drove a horse-drawn wagon early each morning to a nearby spring. There, he filled wooden barrels with water the family would use that day to drink, cook, and wash. 

Badonie, the youngest of seven children, including brothers who fought in World War II and the Korean War, or one of her siblings would go along. She remembers it as fun. At home, a hose siphoned the water into buckets to bring into the house. Badonie left for boarding school in kindergarten, first just a few miles across town, then several days’ travel away in Crownpoint, where an older sister worked as a cook, and eventually, all the way to Albuquerque for high school.

As water reaches eastern Navajo communities, it brings possibilities and homecomings

For a while, Chee Smith Jr. thought he was going to have to send his father to die among strangers. His family lives at Whitehorse Lake, a Navajo chapter where, until a few years ago, roughly 550 of 700 residents had no running water in their homes, including Smith’s. As Smith’s father aged and his health worsened, it became harder and harder for him to live at home. “We had to haul water from the chapterhouse or the watering points every day for just basic things — for cooking, for laundry, for stuff like that, and also for our livestock,” Smith said. “It takes a big toll.

It’s unclear whether vaccines are reaching hardest hit New Mexico communities

As New Mexico continues to amp up vaccine distribution, health officials don’t appear to be allocating a greater number of doses to those living in low-income areas that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those areas include McKinley County, the southern border region, and communities in central New Mexico where some of the highest rates of positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths have occurred. 

Other than some targeted distribution to congregant facilities like nursing homes and prisons, as well as health care and medical workers, the state is taking an approach of calling up individuals who’ve registered on the state vaccine portal. People are prioritized based on various risk categories, such as age, underlying conditions, or being an essential worker. “…basically we’re randomizing them to see who will receive that vaccine dose,” New Mexico Health Secretary Dr. Tracie Collins said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference. It’s an approach designed to ensure there is no favoritism in vaccine access, Collins said. 

But the hardest hit populations are low income communities that are disproportionately Native American and Latino, Black and other communities of color, and there is currently no publicly available information about whether or not vaccine distribution is sufficiently reaching these groups.

NM lawmakers tackle civil rights protections and police accountability

After a year in which police use of lethal force against Black people awakened large swaths of the American public to a discussion about systemic racism, lawmakers in New Mexico are looking to reform policing and better protect civil liberties. 

The Memorial Day killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked mass marches across the country, including in New Mexico, to protest the unequal and dangerous treatment Black people encounter in interactions with police. 

New Mexico is no stranger to calls for greater scrutiny of law enforcement. 

The U.S. Department of Justice forced the state’s largest law enforcement agency into a consent decree after concluding in 2014 the Albuquerque Police Department exhibited a troubling pattern of excessive force, including one of the highest rates in fatal shootings by its police officers. The killings haven’t been limited to APD, either. Between Floyd’s death this Memorial Day and the end of November, there were 11 fatal police-involved shootings across New Mexico, according to local news reports and a database of deadly police shootings maintained by the Washington Post. 

Since 2015, when the Post began compiling data, New Mexico has recorded 115 law-enforcement shootings, New Mexico trails only Alaska for the highest rate of fatal police shootings in that time – 55 per one million residents. Soon after Floyd’s death, the state Legislature passed House Bill 5 that created a temporary New Mexico Civil Rights Commission to investigate and recommend ways to hold public officials to greater account, with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signing the legislation June 26. Nearly four months later, on Oct.

COVID disparities force a public health reckoning

The coronavirus feels the way it looks in widely circulated images, said Cleo Otero: like a thorn. “That’s how it felt inside my body, especially my lungs. It was painful. Like it was scratching the inside of your body. I could really literally feel the virus inside my body.” 

Otero’s first clue she was sick came at the laundromat in Albuquerque where she usually buys a bag of spicy chips as she waits on her clothes.

Midwifery presents important avenue for fighting health disparities

Hill with her granddaughter. (Courtesy of Nandi Andrea Hill)

When Nandi Andrea Hill got pregnant at 21, she knew she wanted to have a home birth but couldn’t find a midwife, so she turned to her mother who coached her to have a natural birth without medical interventions. They planned to go to the hospital for the delivery itself, but the baby came faster than they expected. 

“I ended up birthing her at home unplanned with paramedics that came rushing in my room, eight men. They didn’t catch her, she flew out and she did wonderful. They took me to the hospital, but literally when I was putting her up on my chest—I was in culinary arts—I said I need to be a midwife.